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Neil Armstrong - 1930-2012

An Aviator at Heart

Armstrong with EAA's Wright Flyer replica
Neil Armstrong pictured in 1993 on EAA's Wright Flyer replica in the AirVenture Museum.

Armstrong at EAA's Salute to Apollo in 1994.
Armstrong at EAA's Salute to Apollo in 1994.

August 27, 2012 - The sad news that Neil A. Armstrong passed away Saturday reverberated through the entire world, but even more so in the aviation community - to which Armstrong was a lifelong member. The first human being to set foot on the lunar surface died, according to a statement from his family, "following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures."

Armstrong, an EAA member (EAA 301581), created one of those irrefutable "you-remember-where-you-were" moments in human history on July 20, 1969, when he made "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Yet he always considered himself "a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job," his family stated. "He was a Navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits."

Those who were EAA members in 1994 will never forget Armstrong's appearance at the Oshkosh Fly-In and Convention, where he joined 15 other astronauts in EAA's Salute to Apollo program marking the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first landing on the moon. During that week, he showed his pilot pedigree when asked the inevitable question, "What was it like, walking on the moon?"

Neil's simple and eloquent reply: "You know, we pilots don't care an awful lot about walking. We like to fly."

Here are some remarks Armstrong made at the unforgettable Salute to Apollo appearance, from the October 1994 edition of EAA Sport Aviation:

"I've always been interested in airplanes since I was a very little boy. I went to my first Cleveland Air Races when I was 2 years old. I took my first airplane ride when I was 6 and was an avid model builder in elementary school. I always wanted to be an airplane designer and it occurred to me that a good designer should know about airplanes from the pilot's perspective.

"So I started to fly when I was 15 and soloed on my 16th birthday. I've been flying ever since."

Commenting on the future, Armstrong prophetically stated: "As long as space flight is pretty much the domain of governments, we're going to be limited as to what we can do, because all governments are restricted by the amount of public money they have. My hope is that in the future lower-cost propulsion systems make space flight affordable and we can have more private participation in flight outside the atmosphere. When we do it on private money and strive for individual goals, we'll make a great deal of progress and I look forward to that."

Armstrong also appeared at the 1988 Oshkosh convention, where he received the highest EAA honor, the Freedom of Flight award, and at AirVenture 2003, where he was a major attraction for EAA's celebration of the centennial of powered flight. He gave a special evening program presentation at Theater in the Woods to a standing-room-only audience.

Armstrong's family concluded their statement with a simple yet poignant request for people wishing to honor their loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend: "Honor his example of service, accomplishment, and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

EAA's Salute to Apollo, 1994

Freedom of Flight Award, 1988

March 1993 visit to Oshkosh (for A&E)

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